MADRID — Although Dani Alves has been pleasantly surprised by the worldwide support he has received since being racially taunted, the Barcelona defender took a shot a Spain by labeling the country "backward" in its fight against racism.
Alves, a Brazilian who is black, was about to take a corner during a Spanish league match on Sunday when a Villarreal fan threw a banana at him. Alves picked it up, peeled it and ate some of it before throwing the rest aside.
Football players, celebrities and politicians soon flooded social media sites with pictures of themselves eating bananas in support of Alves.
"It was a surprise. I didn't expect it, but it was positive. I wasn't thinking about the repercussions when I did what I did. I was just trying to use a positive attitude to counter a negative attitude," Alves said Monday night in an interview with Brazil's Radio Globo.
"Later I saw that everyone was posting about it, all the public figures talking about it. It grew into something bigger and I hope that in the end this is all worth something."
Villarreal has since banned the offending spectator for life and condemned his behavior, but it did not announce any further sanctions. The incident was included in the referee's match report, but such actions normally draw only a fine from the league's disciplinary committee.
Alves said the response was typical of Spain, where attitudes to racism have been lax.
"They sell it as a first-world country, as very evolved, but that's only for some things," Alves said. "In many ways they are still very backward. There's prejudice against foreigners and because of race and color. It's something that has happened to other colleagues of mine before."
Alves has often been subjected to racist taunts and called fighting racism "a lost war" last year after segments of Real Madrid fans abused him with monkey chants during a match.
Alves said if he had it his way, he would post the Villarreal spectator's picture on the internet to shame him.
Alves is not the first player in Spain to be targeted with racial abuse. Real Madrid defender Marcelo, who is also Brazilian, was recently greeted with monkey chants by a section of Atletico Madrid fans this season.
In other instances, former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o was convinced not to walk off the field at Zaragoza in 2006 after fans berated the Cameroon striker with racist chants. Two years earlier, Spain fans at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid greeted England's black players with monkey chants during an international friendly match.
Still, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said he'd like to think the latest abuse was only "an isolated incident."
"Some people use serious incidents for propaganda purposes," said Del Bosque, the coach who led Spain to the 2010 World Cup title. "I don't think it's (all of Spain), I like to think it's an isolated incident, I'd like to think that."
AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.
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